Saturday, June 27, 2015

Louis - New Kid in Town

Only 3 months old, Breton chef Stéphane Pitré's Louis has begun to make its mark on the Paris restaurant front.  The spacially-challenged, well-appointed venue in the 9th - somber blues on the outside and elegant whites on the inside houses a whopping 10 tables, providing the possibility of feeding 27 patrons.  There were fewer than that last Friday night when Co. and I went for dinner,  with a few tables still unoccupied by evening's end, and so nice that one of those empty tables was next to ours, providing a bit of privacy to our fascinating, enlightening conversation, which had to be toned down every two minutes when one of the two attentive and informative hostesses/servers - what is the politically correct term anyway? - kept hovering over my shoulder to work on the restaurant's computer to manage reservations, l'additions, etc.  It's that kind of place.  Monsieur Pitré and two assistants worked their fine-tuned choreography in the tiny, open kitchen providing, at least for me, endless amazement at how the three weren't constantly bumping into each other, but we're talking pros here.  The meal was outstanding, need I say more?  I'll think of something.

 As I had done my homework before arrival, I knew not to expect much from the carte, and true to expectation, beyond price and number of dishes, there was ... nothing. 

 Co. and I slummed it, opting for the Louis en 6 temps formule at 48€ a pop.  Throw in an intriguing 3-part mise-en-bouche and a quartet of end-of-meal patisseries, one does not leave Louis wanting for more.

Mise en bouche - a merangue croustillant with mustard, a green brioche, and although I can't remember what was the third, it was without doubt the tastiest

Temps 1 - a foie gras and bouillon de moules concoction that belied the chef's Breton origins

Temps 2 - Co.'s boeuf tartare with wasabi (and her hands)

Shying away from beef, my alternative was an amazing haddock and caviar dish

Temps 3 - an original take on Asian noodles - its bouquet enveloping a hefty langoustine, with raspberry garnish

Temps 4 - the photo doesn't do justice to this tender vollaile dish with girolles - probably the tastiest dish of the meal

Temps 5 - not that the meal wasn't copious enough, but this 'pre-dessert,' albeit very nice, wasn't much of a dish

Temps 6 - oh yeah, that's what I'm talkin' about - just because it's summer doesn't mean we have to limit ourselves to fruit; this chocolate mi-cuit with avocado ice cream and chocolate flakes left me wanting another one, now.

 No photo for the patisseries at the end - two financiers au poire and a couple fondant chocolates.  This was a great meal, with flavors spanning various parts of the globe.  The 48€ menu -or if you want, 62€ for 8 dishes - is a bargain and there were some reasonably priced, well-selected wines on the list, including the 37€ Chinon that accompanied our meal.  This is one we'll definitely be revisiting, although I highly doubt we'll have much luck with the empty table next to us in the future - once word gets out - or at least further than it has to date - get ready to have to reserve weeks in advance.

LOUIS  -  Stéphane Pitré
23 rue de la Victoire
75009 PARIS
tel. 01 55 07 86 52

As an inane postcript, as a baseball fan, and even more specifically, a Baltimore Orioles fan, I couldn't help thinking of O's Mexican-born starting pitcher Miguel Gonzalez every time I glanced upon M. Pitré work his kitchen.  I don't know if anyone has ever seen the two in the same room at the same time, but they are both aces in my book.

The chef

The baseball player

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Neige d'été -Mono no aware in action

The Japanese aesthetical concept of mono no aware, literally translates as the bittersweet awareness of the transience of things, signifying a sad, fleeting beauty that is conspicuous in traditional Japanese cultural expressions.  And it is no surprise that this notion kept coming to mind during last Saturday evening's dinner at Co.'s latest Paris discovery, Neige d'ete, itself translated, for the uninformed, as 'summer snow.'  Nice - it was a summery, mid-June evening, and our long journey to the 15th paid off big-time with a surprisingly fresh, original, and refreshing meal.  Hideki Nishi's restaurant is austere beyond belief - no sign on the facade, and no embellishments on the whitewashed walls, save some understated chandeliers and white, linen curtains.  The restaurant's name evokes a winter flower that blooms in the summer in France, once again suggesting the ephemeral nature of things.  An overly attentive staff of black-clad Japanese servers were as understated as the decor.  The fleeting nature of things further personified by the virtual wine list, brought to the table on an iPad.

But the food is where the real action is at Neige d'été.  As le Fooding guide observed, "vegetables from Annie Bertin, fish from the Etel auction, lobsters from Vincent Doucet…).  The more things change, the more they stay the same - another fixed price, fixed options menu , respectably priced at 70€ per person.  There was a second option priced at 90€ that included a special cut of beef, but Co. and I slummed it and went with option 1, which looked like this:

70 euro menu, page 1  (click to enlarge)  

70 euro menu, page 2  - missing from the top is dish 4, couchon (click to enlarge)

No skimping on extras either - the meal started off with two well-appointed mises-en-bouche, as seen below.

Something is missing - the pain d'epice, the least interesting of the trio which I impulsively ingested prior to shooting, but right off the bat, it was apparent that something good was happening here Mrs. Jones

Mise en bouche 2 - a simple gazpacho

This salmon with flowers, resting on a croustillant base, takes the prize as the most beautifully prepared dish I've had all year.

Another exquisite dish, the obligatory - for Paris in May/June - white asparagus dish - didn't reach the pinnacle of the salmon, but still tasty

This Saint-Pierre fish and rice was a most original take on paella

Co.'s couchon

... and my couchon alternative, pintade

Desert 1 - hit the spot

Desert 2 - the also obligatory - on Paris menus May/June - panna cotta.  Sorry, I know it's summertime and you're supposed to eat refreshing fruit and all, but panna cotta isn't my thing.

More extras, just in case two deserts weren't enough - and these weren't throwaway patisseries, either, these were really good.

Somewhat difficult to get to and a bit on the pricy side, true - wines starting at around 40€ - you can expect to close in on the 200€ mark for two - but Neige d'été, although currently not all the buzz, will probably garner quite a bit pretty soon.   So reserve while you can.

Opining on mono no aware, the designer Jaitra noted that the Japanese ideal sees beauty . . .as
an experience of the heart and soul, a feeling for and appreciation of objects or artwork—most commonly nature or the depiction of—in a pristine, untouched state.  That's not a bad way of characterizing the philosophy behind Neige d'été.

Just a little gift on the way out the door - a plastic bag holding two sugar cookies.

Two for the road

Neige d'été
12 rue de l'Amiral Roussin
75015 Paris
tel: 01 42 73 66 66

Read more about mono no aware in my new book, People and Products:

Monday, May 25, 2015

Dix-Huit - No Name Goes Bourgeouis

One last dinner in Paris before the Moose goes globe-trotting for the summer and he picked a good one, Dix-Huit, the restaurant whose 'name' is the street number so you won't get lost in the upscale Ternes area in the 17th.  Don't let the neighborhood fool you, Dix-Huit/18 is affordable, despite not having a fixed-price 'menu,' something that I don't think I'll ever understand.

Chef Aaron Isap on the right
Inside Dix-Huit, obviously

       The two-roomed restaurant is the domain of Julien Peret and his the Flipino chef Aaron Isap, the latter having worked his way through Apicius, Drouant, Ze Kitchen Galerie and Pan, which is pretty amazing given that he looks like he's maybe 21 (or should I say 18?).  I didn't detect much of an Asian influence in the dishes, as I had been led to expect, but Isap is adventurous enough to keep things interesting - according to him, during his visit to our table when he made the rounds late in the meal - the menu changes daily. 

The restaurant's decor and arrangement are a bit odd - perhaps a matter of taste - we were ushered into the brightly lit back room, with its resemblance to a terrace: an atrium-like roof and an ambiance that suggested lab room with plants.  By mid-evening, the lights dimmed, the tables filled, and things became a bit more copacetic, notwithstanding the New York couple at the table next to ours who kept apologizing for listening in to the fascinating and provocative conversation typical of Moose and my interactions, but then went on to add their two sense nonetheless.  C'est la vie, as they say here.

Given that the carte changes daily, the following won't be of much use to you, but below you'll see what the offerings looked like the mid-week evening of our dinner:

Click on photo to enlarge

And here is the translation, in pictures:

This white asparagus dish, perhaps the tastiest of the evening, was comped to us by chef Isap - what can I say, the Moose is connected

My Crudo de Doraude entree was more pleasing to the eye than to the tongue - good, but nothing spectacular (9€)

The Moose was more than satisfied with this tartare de veau entree (11€)

My main dish - pintade with radishes - coulda been a contendah, but the betterave (?) accompaniment didn't really work for me.  The meat was excellent, though.  (23€)

Opting out of dessert, ever mindful that such extravagances could multiply any ill effects of his copious lager drinking on non-dinner out evenings, the Moose savored his lieu jaune (19€) and watched me dig into my espuma cafe  (9€).

This rather mundane looking dessert grew more interesting and tastier the deeper I dug, as I hit the pistachios.  Wouldn't mind another of these babies

The verdict is more a pretty good than a spectacular.  However, given the ever-changing menu and chef Isap's experimental nature, Dix-Huit certainly warrants a return visit, probably with the ever-discerning Co. in tow.  I'll keep you posted (which is why they call these things 'posts').

18 (you guessed it) rue Bayen
75017 Paris

From the restaurant's website

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Le Villaret - Aging Well

Last Thursday evening, on the heels of a spontaneous and ill-chosen dinner at Chez Clement on the Champs Elysee (enough said), Co.and I directed some family to a monumental step up to one of my old Paris favorites, Le Villaret, a serious, comfortable, always-filled bistrot that veritably defines the term 'Paris bistrot.'  Hell, Le Villaret has been high on my list since not long after my arrival in France about 20 years ago, and it just keeps getting better with age. . .although I'm not sure I'd be willing to make that bold statement about yours truly. 

Not from the night we were there, but Villaret is always filled.
True, there was a few-years lull when Co. and I turned our attention elsewhere, a bit put off by Villaret's rather pricey ala carte menu.  Problem now solved - Villaret offers one of the best menu degustation deals in town, with its 55€ six-course dinner, accompanied by a mise-en-bouche (a  tasty spinach cream) and a plate of patisseries along with the cafe (4€).  And with quantity comes distinct quality, each dish delicately prepared with fresh ingredients and panache.  A couple years ago, Villaret's owners spiced up the interior, which now is still cozy but more refined, with less of the Swiss chalet look, and more glimpses of the superb wine selection.  Along with pricier bottles, Villaret now offers some very affordable options, including an excellent Cabardes Cazaban (30€).  Some highlights from the meal follow below.  What is missing is the initial entree, a seasonal asperge consomme, and a penultimate dessert consisting of some sort of coconut concoction and passion fruit.

Sardines - not my favorite - but this dish was excellent.

Sandre pierre and leeks

Pigeon and large peas - again, a dish that typically isn't one of my top choices, but this one was more than fine.

White chocolate and other goodies inside, accompanied by pina colada ice.

The upshot - an excellent meal, each dish adding to the overall Gestalt in a way that really made sense.  When you can say that about a meal that includes a couple of dishes that you may typically shy away from, you get what Villaret is all about.  And when their menu includes items you actually like, well then it doesn't get much better than that.

13 rue Ternaux
75011 Paris
tel: 01 43 57 75 56

reserve at least a week in advance.

Interesting wall adornment in the Oberkampf area nearby

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Les Deserteurs - Ex-Rino Rises to the Top

A superb Friday dinner in May with NJ-->TX-->Paris friends at the once Rino restaurant in the 11th - quite simply, there is little not to like about Les Deserteurs.  Just don't make the mistake I did and keep your phone off the day of your reservation - space is limited at Les Deserteurs and demand is high, so if they can't get in touch with you during the day to get a confirmation, the folks who run the venue will be very distressed.  Fortunately, an hour and a half before show time, I did confirm. I learned our table was held, but they were obliged to schedule a second serving just in case at 10 pm.  Completely understandable, and I appreciated how they handled the situation.  Everyone was gracious when we arrived, and the servers were attentive, informative, and willing to switch between French and English throughout the evening.  The four of us were seated in one of the few tables in the front room across from the open kitchen, which was fine with me - in the center of the action, but still remote enough from other diners to be able to maintain our conversations unimpeded by neighbors breathing down our necks.

Photo taken off Google images so you get the idea
As is often the case at the neo-bistrots of Les Deserteurs' ilk, the menu was fixed and short-term.  Diners have the choice of a 6 plate (60€) or 4 plate (45€) dinner, and here's the cool part - not everyone at the table need partake of the same option.  We went with three of the former and one of the latter, along with two bottles of a very satisfying Rioja at 35€ a bottle.  The bill was boosted by a whopping 30€ supplement for the beef special of the day dish, which by obligation, must be shared by two diners.  Okay, I hope all that is clear - it adds up to a total cost of 325€ for four, and given the quality of the meal, it was worth every cent.  Below, you'll find the carte and accompanying photos of the dishes, although I think that should be pretty obvious if you just scroll down.

If you click on the photo it will enlarge and be perfectly readable

This would be the rhubarb,

Impressive rendering of an asparagus spear from Corsica

This unimposing piece of lotte was undoubtedly the best dish I've had all year

Not a very flattering shot of the beef, but the Texas pros at the table swore it was epic

Lemon in all its states - one or two of the states might have been missing, but the important ones were there

This dish almost seemed superfluous after all the gorging, but it merited greater attention than we gave it

There you have it - fine dining in all its states.  I enjoyed Rino, the two or three times I ate there.  The kitchen was competent and creative, but never really memorable.  Its replacement, Les Deserteurs, merits high praise for a memorable meal.  As it turned out, the confirmation snafu had little impact on our table lingering - by well past 10 pm, I asked our host why we hadn't been kicked out yet and he explained that he used some 'magique' to avoid that unpleasant possibility (he seated the second serving at another table that was vacated earlier).

Why the name?  Apparently, the team behind Les Deserteurs - led by Daniel Baratier (chef) and Alexandre Céret (sommelier) - deserted Le Sergent Recruteur to strike out on their own.

46 Rue Trousseau
75011 Paris
tel: 01 48 06 95 85

Reserve at least 3 weeks in advance and, by all means, confirm the day of your reservation.

Graffito around the corner from Les Deserteurs
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